When we boarded the bus from Kozhikode on a cold and windy October evening in 1993, we had only one aim - we should reach Fernhill in Ooty as early as possible, meet the great philosopher and author Guru Nitya Chaitanya Yati, and invite him for our programme on education to be held in Kozhikode a month later.
The thought itself was enough for my friend Riyas Ahmed and I to brave the piercing gusts of cold wind.
Yati was an enigma for me at that time. I was just 21 and was a final year undergraduate student. I had read only a couple of books and articles written by the Guru and I found them hard to comprehend. Nonetheless, I yearned to meet him at his ashram in Fernhill.
A day after reaching Ooty, we hired an autorickshaw and set out to Fernhill. We did not know anyone at the Gurukul. But we opened the gates confidently. And we were greeted by Dr. Thampan, a doctor by profession who looked after the affairs of the Gurukul.
“Children, where were you from?”, he asked us. When we told him about our intention, he took us to the living room of the Gurukul and served us two cups of tea. "Children, please sit here. Let me inform Guru about your visit," he said.
The living room at the Gurukul doubled up as a prayer room. Gurukul does not organise formal religious prayers. However, visitors have the liberty to offer their religious prayers. Those who are not interested in prayers can sit in silence or read a book. The Gurukul followed Sree Narayana Guru's vision of one Caste, one Religion and one God.
At the Gurukul, located in the sylvan surroundings of the Nilgiri hill ranges, one can experience the profound connection between Nature and the Soul.
The mystery of the forest, the chirping of the birds, the rushing of the wind and the rustling of leaves all combine to open one’s eyes to higher realities than what meets the physical eye.
The Gurukul is spread over four acres, and much of the land is being used to grow crops.
Everyone at the Gurukul strives to keep the surroundings clean. They also cook together. Long-term residents and visitors - both from India and abroad - can be seen working in the kitchen.
The path of the Gurukul is knowledge and inquiry, and not dispute. Therefore, spirituality and theology are not the only topics of study at the Gurukul. It also encourages discourses on cosmology, literature, music and painting.
The great sage
The Guru we had the good fortune of meeting in the Gurukul that day was born on November 2, 1923 in Murinjakal, in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district.
After matriculation, he left home and travelled across India. He met Gandhiji and many other famous personalities. He interacted with Sufi Faqirs, Jain and Buddhist monks and spiritual masters, such as Ramana Maharshi. On his return to Kerala, he enrolled to study philosophy at the Union Christian College in Aluva. He continued his studies in Philosophy and Psychology at the University College in Thiruvananthapuram.
Later, he taught at Sree Narayana College in Kollam and Vivekananda College in Chennai. During this time, he studied Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga, and the Puranas and other Indian literature. He was initiated into Sannyasa and became a proponent of Advaita Vedanta.
In Guru’s presence
Thampan returned and said to us, “The Guru was writing. When I informed him about your visit, he stopped writing. Now the Guru is calling you. Come on.”
We followed him. Riyaz had brought some books as a gift to the Guru. I had no idea what to talk to him about. In fact, I was very nervous as I was going to meet a wise man who had written umpteen books on various subjects.
The Guru was sitting in his writing room. His hair was neatly combed and he had a long grey beard. He wore a woollen shawl over a sweater. His eyes shone through thick glasses. He greeted us with a smile. He gestured to us to sit on the chairs in front of his writing desk.
“Isn't it cold?”, he asked.
“Yes, it’s very cold,” I replied.
He shook his head and laughed. Then, if I recall rightly, he asked us if we had had tea.
“Yes,” I said to him.
Meanwhile, Riyaz handed him the gift package. The Guru opened it and picked up the books and placed them on the table.
He inquired where our home was. He asked me what I was studying. He was all ears to what we were saying.
Then I asked him a few questions. After a while, I told him the purpose of our visit. We waited for his positive response.
The Guru closed his eyes for a while. Then, he took off his glasses, wiped both his eyes and put the glasses back. He laughed slightly, shook his head and said: “I have reduced my journeys, children. I am getting older. I leave the Gurukul only a few times a year.”
His reply disappointed us. But I remained pragmatic. My mind kept telling me that he would not turn down our invitation. But I did not say anything.
As we prepared to say goodbye, Guru said: “Eat your lunch here before you leave. People from other countries are living here. Get to know them all."
We heeded to the Guru. We walked around the Gurukul. We talked with a few people and ate a simple lunch at the dining room.
Thampan, who came down to the Gurukul yard, told us: “The Guru has asked for your phone number and address. He said that he will let us know by next week whether he can attend the programme in Kozhikode.” He also handed gift packets containing Guru’s books to us.
One week later, we were surprised to get a call from Gurukul. We were told that the Guru had agreed to come to Kozhikode at our invitation. A few weeks later, he fulfilled his promise to us. He reached Kozhikode and delivered the inaugural address of our programme.
(The author is Chairman of Vakkom Moulavi Centre for Studies and Research and freelancer based in Kozhikode. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)